At meetings and barbecues where the political class comes together to guess at what will keep them in office, the conventional wisdom appears to be (1) ignore the procedural violations leading to the unstudied County Commission decision; (2) tout other environmental projects without mentioning the pollution to be created by the favored diesel power plant; and (3) shut out any alternative energy proposals by barreling ahead with the diesel-fired plant.
To be fair, today's position is a far stretch better than where we were last week. Before that, the Commission's Chair behaved petulantly during public comment and public outcry was met with stony silence and defensiveness. Every single County Commissioner avoided the Mountain Voices Alliance public meeting to educate the community on the implications of the diesel power plant.
The Commission's collectively penned CYA in the Ashevile Citizen-Times included a number of politically rendered lines:
"The production and delivery of electricity is an extremely complex issue. As a result, we rely heavily on the technical expertise of members of the North Carolina Utilities Commission and public staff."
Translation: "We don't even know what we're doing, so don't blame us!"
"the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency permit process ensures the project complies with strict air-quality regulations"
Translation: "Ignore the pollution, the government says it's safe!"
"This board agrees that alternative energy resources and conservation must be encouraged."
Translation: "Don't let the fact that we consulted with Progress Energy for two years in secret while never consulting our wealth of alternative energy and conservation talent make you think we're ignorant to the possibilities."
"As long as the proper regulatory and environmental policies and procedures are followed, we cannot impede Progress Energy’s obligation to serve this region’s electrical needs."
Translation: "We did the backroom deal. Now we're pretending it's out of our control, so leave us alone. How could little old us stop that big old power plant?"
"This board believes that the decision to lease this property is a good one to ensure the energy future of this county. How good, depends on how serious each of us is about managing our usage of energy."
Translation: "The plant will only pollute if you people use energy. So don't, or we'll blame the pollution on you."
The most significant climbdown came Monday when the County Commissioners sent a letter to the North Carolina Utilities Commission. Here's the money quote (entire text of the letter at No New Woodfin Power Plant):
"Therefore, this Board hereby requests that your Commission not permit this facility to produce power for sale to other communities that is above and beyond what our community needs."
All over the county there were rumors of the diesel "peaker" running 70-80% of the time to supply outside areas with power instead of the touted 10%. This letter asks the NCUC to permit only local sale of the energy. This is the smartest move yet in an improper, inconsiderate, harmful series of events.
- The Commission, stunning in its short-sightedness and willingness to break the law, negotiated only with Progress Energy to provide for Buncombe's growing energy needs. Imagine if our County leaders had tapped into the ocean of local entrepreneurs for alternative solutions. Imagine if the Commission had given them 2 years to plan and a promise of a $1 lease on 78 acres.
- Emissions for the proposed plant each year include:
• 247 tons of Nitrogen Oxides, a component of ground level ozone
• 97 tons of particulate matter
• 31 tons of volatile organic compounds
• 2.4 tons of Sulfur dioxide
• Smaller amounts of toxic compounds such as Lead, Benzene, Chromium & Mercury
- "N.C. general statute 158-7.1 allows counties to engage in private negotiations concerning sales or long-term leases for economic-development purposes provided certain conditions are met. The property in question cannot be leased at a discounted rate, and the lessee must be creating a substantial number of jobs paying more than the local median wage. In determining the value of a property, a municipal government may include anticipated tax revenues from a proposed development."
Here's to the County Commission for having the good sense to realize that the community is against this project as it now exists. If only they had the good sense to create an energy future that utilizes our local resources and talent while protecting our health and environment.